1st March 2024 – (Hong Kong) In Hong Kong, beneath the veneer of religious piety and charitable acts, lies a paradox that is sparking widespread debate and concern. The ancient tradition of ‘mercy release’, where captive animals are set free in an act believed by Buddhists and Taoists to create good karma and fortune, is facing intense scrutiny. This practice, however, is not as benevolent as it seems. It has been linked to ecological disruption, animal cruelty, and even tragic human fatalities, such as the unfortunate demise of a 61-year-old woman named Lee, who lost her life during one such event in Tsuen Wan yesterday.

Lee’s fatal accident aboard a yacht on the Rambler Channel Typhoon Shelter serves as a wake-up call of the unintended consequences of these acts of ‘mercy’. The irony of her demise during an event meant to foster life is not lost on observers. Her passing has ignited a conversation about the true cost of these release activities on both human participants and the animals they seek to liberate.

The fundamental issue with mercy release is a lack of understanding of the natural world. Participants, hoping to improve their fortunes, purchase animals from markets and farms, unknowingly condemning them to a grim fate. These animals, bred and raised in captivity, lack the innate skills to survive in the wild. Disoriented and vulnerable, they often succumb to starvation, disease, or predation shortly after their release.

Ironically, the practice aimed at accumulating good karma perpetuates a cycle of suffering. Increased demand for animals leads to more being captured, many of which do not survive the journey to the markets due to inhumane conditions. This cycle is fueled by misconceptions and spirituality, resulting in significant profits for those who exploit these beliefs.

The assumption that any life, no matter how fleeting, is superior to captivity is flawed. The high mortality rates post-release contradict the very notion of liberation. In reality, these animals had a better chance of survival while in captivity, where at least their basic needs were met.

The ecological impact of mercy release is equally concerning. Commonly released species such as red-eared slider turtles lack the necessary survival skills and often disrupt local ecosystems when introduced. They can out-compete native species, introduce diseases, and negatively affect genetic diversity. The release of non-native species is particularly problematic, as it provides no conservation benefit and can cause long-term environmental harm.

Instances of releasing freshwater species into saltwater environments, and vice versa, highlight a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of different species. This biological ignorance results in immediate death for the animals involved, contradicting the practice’s supposed goal of compassion.

Public health concerns also arise from mercy release, as the potential for zoonotic disease transmission increases when people handle animals without proper knowledge or precautions. The lack of action from policymakers to address these issues only exacerbates the problem.

At the heart of the debate is the well-being of the animals themselves. The practice of mercy release reduces living beings to mere tools for absolving bad karma, undermining the respect for life that the tradition purportedly upholds. The cruel irony is that the attempt to earn merit through release often results in the needless suffering of the animals involved.

For true compassion to prevail, the focus must shift to the animals’ welfare. A comprehensive ban on mercy release, supported by an ethical reawakening, is necessary. Education and outreach can play pivotal roles in transforming cultural practices, raising awareness about the consequences of releasing animals into inappropriate environments. Practitioners can channel their generosity into more constructive avenues, such as supporting wildlife rehabilitation centers or conservation efforts. Everyday acts of environmental stewardship can also contribute to a more humane and ethical treatment of animals.

Aspiring to protect and preserve nature, those who once participated in mercy release can evolve their actions into informed activism. With the right guidance and a genuine desire to do good, there is hope for change.

Leaders in Hong Kong have a critical role to play in fostering an ethos of ecological responsibility. By promoting conservation education and ethics, they can help cultivate a society that values the interconnectedness of all life. Legislation akin to that in Taiwan could serve as a powerful deterrent to mercy release and signify a commitment to animal welfare and environmental stewardship.